The UK and Belgium have teamed up in a new partnership to ease the process for Chinese visitors applying for visas.
Under the agreement, tourists and business travellers from China will be able to obtain a visa to come to the UK and the Schengen area nations from the same application centre.
There are 26 countries in the Schengen area, including France, Germany and Italy. The all allow non-EU visitors to travel to countries in the zone on a single visa.
UK businesses were concerned that they were missing out on Chinese spending because the process for visitors to come to the UK was more difficult. The new agreement comes after they lobbied the Government on the issue.
From July 1, a pilot project will be introduced allowing Chinese travellers to use one set of documents to apply online for UK and Belgian visas, followed up by a single appointment at the visa issuing centre.
It goes one step further than Home Secretary Theresa May’s previous attempt to simplify the process by permitting Chinese applicants to apply for a UK and Schengen visa through the same website. However, they were still required to visit a British visa centre and go through further processing.
Although the number of UK visas issued to Chinese visitors in the 12 months to March rose by 10 per cent to 291,919, Britain still lagged behind Schengen countries Italy, Germany and France.
Catherine Shrimpton, who heads tourism policy at business lobby group London First, told the Financial Times that the changes would make a big difference.
She said: “Separate European and UK visa systems have forced Chinese tourists to jump through two distinct hoops, making most travellers choose between mainland Europe or the UK, rather than visiting both.”